We learned by accident two weeks ago that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had directed NAMA to make €1bn in credit available at an interest rate of 1.52% per annum to Irish Bank Resolution Corporation which is now being liquidated. This, at a time when small and medium enterprise companies in the State are starved of credit and where IBRC is dangerously insolvent. Minister Noonan used powers conferred on him by the NAMA Act 2009 which allows him to send a letter to NAMA directing it to act in a certain way for the common good.
Last week, NAMA was defeated by the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information, Emily O’Reilly in Dublin’s High Court after transparency champion, Gavin Sheridan had sought information from NAMA which the Agency refused to provide, even after Emily O’Reilly ruled that it should have been provided.
We learned yesterday that the cost to date of the legal action by NAMA to resist providing the information was €121,350 – comprising €71,350 costs incurred by NAMA and a further €50,000 costs incurred by Emily O’Reilly. Two state agencies fighting amongst themselves had resulted in a bonanza for the legal profession of €121,350. When the case started at the High Court last year, the comment on here was that it was akin to an art installation where our money is burned – that was supposed to humourous, it is less humourous now. Sinn Fein has pointed out in a press release that the €121,350 is more than all the Freedom of Information fees paid by citizens to government departments and agencies in 2011.
But we also learned yesterday that Minister Noonan is again, powerless to order NAMA not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court which may result in the legal costs ballooning, all the while denying the public access to basic information about the Agency’s operations.
In the Dail, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty asked Minister Noonan about the costs of the case and about intervening to stop any appeal and further expenditure of legal fees. Despite the Minister recently placing €1bn of NAMA’s money at risk with IBRC for a measly 1.52% per annum, the Minister said in this instance “NAMA is governed by an independent board of directors. This is a matter for Board of NAMA.”
The full parliamentary questions and responses are here.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance further to the judgement in the High Court case between the National Asset Management Agency and the Office of the Commissioner for Environment Information, the total legal fees incurred by NAMA to date in the case; and the estimate of all legal costs including those of the OCEI.
Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I am advised by the National Treasury Management Agency that costs totalling €71,350 have been incurred by them to date in respect of the case referred to by the Deputy.
My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has advised me that the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information has informed him that the estimated fees incurred by them to date in respect of the case referred to by the Deputy is €50,000.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance further to the judgement in the High Court case between the National Asset Management Agency and the Office of the Commissioner for Environment Information, if he has considered issuing a direction to NAMA pursuant to section 14 of the NAMA Act 2009, not to appeal the judgment of the High Court to the Supreme Court.
Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan : Under the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009 (the NAMA Act) NAMA was established as a body corporate and Section 9(3) of the NAMA Act provides that “except as otherwise provided by this Act, NAMA is independent in the performance of its function under this Act”. NAMA is governed by an independent board of directors.
This is a matter for Board of NAMA.